Ramsay MacDonaldJames Ramsay MacDonald (October 12, 1866 - November 9, 1937) was Britain's first Labour Prime Minister (January-November 1924 and June 1929-August 1931) and subsequently Prime Minister of the "National" Government of August 1931-June 1935.
|Terms of Office:||January, 1924 - November, 1924|
June, 1929 - June, 1935
|PM Predecessors:||Stanley Baldwin|
|PM Successors:||Stanley Baldwin|
|Date of Birth:||12 October 1866|
|Place of Birth:||Lossiemouth, Scotland|
Born at Lossiemouth in Scotland, he was from very humble beginnings and had no secondary education, but was a rousing speaker. A member of the Independent Labour Party from 1893 and subsequently of the broader Labour Party, he entered Parliament in 1906, and became leader of the Labour Party in 1911. In August 1914 he resigned the party leadership in opposition to World War I, subsequently losing his parliamentary seat.
Returned to Parliament at the November 1922 general election, he was re-elected Party leader. On January 22, 1924, after the failure of the Conservative government under Stanley Baldwin to win a majority of parliamentary seats at the previous month's election, MacDonald formed a minority Labour government with Liberal Party support, but it lasted only until November 4 of the same year, when Baldwin returned to office following an election marked by controversy over the Zinoviev Letter.
MacDonald took office as prime minister again on June 7, 1929,this time as leader of the largest party in Parliament, but still without an overall majority and dependent on Liberal support. The economic and financial crisis of 1931 split the government between advocates and opponents of stringent government spending cuts, MacDonald and senior colleagues joining with the Conservatives and part of the Liberal Party in a "National Government" (August 24). Most of the Labour rank-and-file went into opposition, denouncing MacDonald as a "rat" and a traitor to the Labour Party. MacDonald was deeply wounded by this and the difficulties of governing over such a disastrous period and his health, both physical and mental, suffered over the next few years as a result. MacDonald surrendered the premiership of an increasingly Conservative-dominated government to Baldwin on June 7, 1935.
He remained in the government as Lord President of the Council but proved increasingly ineffecitve over the next two years. In the 1935 general election he lost his parliamentary seat by over 21,000 votes to Emmanuel Shinwell. MacDonald returned to the House of Commons for the Scottish Universities seat, though he had previously called for its abolition, and finally left office in May 1937. He declined all honours and sought a peaceful retirement. In November 1937, whilst travelling to South America for a long rest he was taken ill and died.
MacDonald's legacy is a mixed one, with few willing to praise his achievements. More than anyone else he transformed the Labour Party from the representatives of a section of British society into one of the two major political parties competing for office. His moderate course of politics has been followed by every subsequent successful Labour Prime Minister. However for many he remains the villain of the 1931 crisis who disrupted the steady rise of the Labour Party by forming a coalition against it. To this day he remains probably the most internally villified figure in the history of the Labour Party.
Ramsay MacDonald's First Labour Government, January - November 1924
Ramsay MacDonald's Second Labour Government, June 1929 - August 1931
Ramsay MacDonald's First Coalition Government, August - November 1931
Ramsay MacDonald's Second Coalition Government, November 1931 - May 1935
Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom
Labour Government (1924)
National Government (1931-1935)